I spent three days in the Windy City last week as Just For Laughs rolled out its fourth annual event there, and in between my last meeting and my flight home, I snuck in a 90-minute visit to one of my favorite places on earth—the Art Institute of Chicago—to take in the grandiose Roy Lichtenstein exhibit.
Whether or not you are an art aficionado, you know Lichtenstein’s work; his comic book-infused visions are the embodiment of the pop art movement, and perhaps next only to Warhol, are the most recognized imagery of the genre. For example:
Now most people—including me, I suppose—have only born witness to said imagery on coffee mugs, t-shirts, repro posters or other souvenir-ish tchotchkes. (Some of us have even borrowed from it to come up with logos for our books and blogs, see top of page and bottom of post…but I digress). So having the rare opportunity to take in Lichtenstein’s eye-popping colors, bold lines and unique technique up close—Mere centimeters away! So close you could smell the paint!—was indeed a treat.
So how did most of my contemporaries visiting the Art Institute that day choose to enjoy said treat?
Through the lens of a camera, smartphone or iPad.
It was an incredible sight. Despite the pleading signage saying “Please. No Photography!” next to virtually EVERY piece, most people viewed the 130-plus pieces of the exhibition with some sort of electronic, image-grabbing apparatus between their eyes and Lichtenstein’s work. Ironically, when I tried to snap a picture of THEM taking pictures, I was immediately interrupted by the one Dudley Do-Right security guard actually enforcing the rule of law…who asked whether or not I could read the signs. Gee, thanks.
What makes this behavior even stranger is the fact that a Google search of “Roy Lichtenstein Images” brings up over 2,000,000 of them, many in dazzling high-res. Add to that fact the Institute was selling a comprehensive souvenir catalog with every image in the show that you could take home and snap away at to your heart’s content. And then there were the t-shirts and mugs and posters and…well, you get the point.
About three years ago, I commented on this phenomenon in a post that I will gladly link to here, and urge you to read, as I could not say it any better today.
Since then (hope you came back after reading it), the technology has improved, but the people haven’t. What we are now choosing to see through lenses and screens changes not just the way things are being experienced, but presented. For example, this quote from Chris Rock in Time Magazine this week, when asked if it’s harder to be funny when famous:
“If anything, this time of YouTube and cell-phone cameras makes the process of creating stand-up comedy harder. I want to go on tour next year, and I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to prepare an act without it getting out. It’s like any time you tell a joke, somebody’s got a camera. The beauty of jokes is the surprise. Plus, when you think you’re being watched like that, you’re less likely to take chances.”
Chris has a choice. He can adapt, albeit begrudgingly.
Lichtenstein doesn’t. He passed away in 1997.
But, luckily, we all do.
So the lesson of the week may be re-hashed from myself three years ago, or as I like to put it, it's a summer re-run, but here goes:
Put down the camera and
enjoy the live experience live.
Yes, you may not
capture it forever,
but frankly, some things
exist better ephemerally.
Forget about re-living the moment.
Live it fully as it happens.